Instruments | Harmonica | Contemporary | Classical
A small free-reed instrument, the harmonica, or mouth organ, is placed between the lips and moved to and fro to reach the rows of channels which house vibrating reeds, played by blowing into it. The arrival of the Chinese sheng in Europe in the eighteenth century encouraged a great deal of experimentation with free-reed instruments. In 1821, Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (1805–64) built such an instrument, the Mundäoline, with 15 reeds. Intended merely as a pitch pipe, used to tune instruments, it turned out to be capable of being played itself. A German clockmaker began manufacturing small numbers of Buschmann’s invention: a hand-carved wooden body holding ‘reeds’ made out of beaten brass wire and fitted into brass or bronze reed plates. A fully chromatic (12-note) harmonica was developed in the 1920s and achieved fame in the hands of Larry Adler (1914–2001). Concertos have been written for the instrument by Vaughan Williams, Milhaud, Arnold and many others.
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